Buying Used Film Cameras

If you’re getting into film photography for the first time you’ll be happy to know that many film cameras can be purchased used at a very low cost. Used equipment is also an ideal way for current film photographers to try different cameras without breaking a budget. When buying a used camera, whether from online auctions like eBay or store near you, there are a few things you should check out before committing to the purchase.

If you can physically touch the camera and look at it then check for the following:

  • Check the overall body for any signs of significant damage or mold. You might be able to repair minor damages, but anything major should obviously be avoided.
  • Check the shutter of the camera – they can be expensive to replace. Try all the shutter speed settings on the camera. Start with a 1 second shutter speed and simply count “one one thousand” to approximate the timing. If it still opens and closes on time try a ½ second shutter speed and estimate as best you can. Shutter problems are generally noticeable right away.
  • Check the apertures. Test all the aperture settings making sure the aperture opens and closes. Check for any signs of rust or damage, these will be fairly noticeable.
  • Open the back of the camera and try winding the film spools. Check that any sprockets or spool holders are still intact and will hold the film properly. Close the back and make sure it is still secure and light tight.
  • Look through the viewfinder to be sure you have a clear view.
  • If the camera takes batteries try to find out what type they take. Some older cameras may have used mercury batteries. While some cameras can take modern batteries or adapters it may be harder to find a power solution for some. If possible, use a battery to check that any automated features that run of the battery, including through-the-lens light meters, are still functional.
  • If the camera has a lens, check for signs of damage. Dust and dirt can generally be cleaned, but scratches or a hazy lens may not.

If you are buying a used camera online, it would help to find a reputable source. has used equipment online from reputable sellers. If using a source such as eBay, try to check as best as possible for any of the above, as well as:

  • Carefully read the descriptions. Some cameras may be sold “as is” or sold for parts. Not all cameras being sold are functional.
  • Contact the seller to specifically ask if the camera is fully functional. Some sellers may have personally used the camera while others are simply selling without having much knowledge about them. In this case, the seller may well believe the camera is functional when it is in fact not.
  • If possible, ask for specific pictures of the camera to verify cleanliness or any signs of damage – particularly if a lens is being purchased.
  • Check for normal pricing. While every seller is different, prices that are too low may be because the camera is not functional or damaged.
  • What else does it come with? You may think you’re getting the deal of a lifetime only to later find out you just purchased a camera body and still need a lens. A good lens can cost just as much, and even more, than the camera body alone.